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Ian Harkin
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Heather Quinlan
Sun Herald

FOR a team that had just lost the National Netball League grand final, the Sydney Swifts were in remarkably fine form as they partied at their Adelaide hotel on Friday night.

They’re a happy bunch at the best of times, but even in the worst, they could see the brighter side of their 48-42 loss to the Adelaide Thunderbirds.

“We’re not slitting our wrists,” said Sydney coach Julie Fitzgerald, “We’ve got no need to. It’s been a good year.”

Indeed it has. The Swifts finished in third place on the Commonwealth Bank Trophy ladder with a 11-3 record, won their semi-final and preliminary final over the Adelaide Ravens and 1997 premiers Melbourne Phoenix, and in their first NNL grand final, were not quite up to the Thunderbirds’ brilliant standards.

But they were close – and that’s more than can be said of their performances against the Thunderbirds a year ago.

“Last year we were getting beaten by 35 goals by the Thunderbirds – when we played them we had this hopeless feeling, that we could never get near them,” Fitzgerald said.

“Now we’re right there. We know exactly what we’re doing wrong.

“We were very nervous and tentative in the first half and we were put off by the Adelaide crowd, there’s no doubt about that.

“It was our inexperience at not having played in a grand final before, particularly for our younger players, that hurt us the most.

“But I do believe we’ve come on enormously this year. I also think we’ve got a long way to go.”

Fitzgerald said she and her players had plenty to be pleased about, if the whole season was taken into perspective.

The Swifts became a fitter, stronger and more mentally tough side in 1998, playing with greater consistency throughout the four quarters of every game.

They also developed into a “team of 10 players”, according to Fitzgerald. “Not too many sides have players on the bench that can be brought into a game and you don’t lose anything from it,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, Fitzgerald nominated Australian representative goal keeper Liz Ellis as the Swifts’ outstanding performer of the season. Younger team members, wing defence Raegan Gilmour and goal defence Alison Williams, also earned praise.

Adelaide keeper Sarah Sutter was a deserving winner of the player-of-the-match award for her excellent work disrupting the flow of balls into the goal circle.

With defender Kathryn Harby and wing defence Peta Squire, Sutter put enormous pressure on the Swifts’ attack.

The Thunderbirds took advantage of the loose ball opportunities and were able to set up victory with a 14-9 third quarter, which gave them a 10-goal lead going into the final period.